150 Years of History: The Pembroke Curling Centre

The Pembroke Curling Centre has an origin that dates all the way back to 1872. Previously known as the Pembroke Curling Club, it was an affiliate of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. It’s official documentation and pictures of the original members are hung proudly on walls of the Pembroke Curling Centre today. This marks them as the third oldest curling club in all of Canada. Before the days of indoor rinks and refrigeration technology curling was played out on the frozen surface of the Ottawa River. Back then, curling was played with corn brooms and rocks made of iron that weighed 80lbs! Much like our ancestors when ice hockey was first played, seasons lasted as long as there was ice to be played on. Eventually the Pembroke Curling Club found an indoor one sheet curling rink, located east of the old Centre Ward school. Another two-sheet rink was located behind the Hydro offices, which was formerly the Pembroke Electric Company. The club did not find a permanent home until 1918 when the building on the corner of Lake and Victoria Street was completed. With advancements in technology such as artificial ice and refrigeration, it would also extend the club’s competitive season. Sadly, the building on Lake and Victoria Street would burn down in 1968, and once again the Pembroke Curling Club would be looking for a new home. Miraculously just a year later, their current location on 428 Herbert Street was constructed giving them a massive 18,000 square foot property with a building that had an upper and a lower floor. Now known as the Pembroke Curling Centre, the club has an impressive four-sheet rink to play on with their competitive season lasting from mid-October through to mid-April and curling being played every single day of the week.

Sitting down with current President – Bill Cheliak we discussed history as well as the new developments for the club as they approach their 150th anniversary. We also talked about his personal history with the sport of curling, and his time as President of the club. “I’ve been in the Pembroke area since the 1980’s but moved away and travelled to a number of different areas. When my wife retired that’s when we decided to relocate to Pembroke and joined the curling club that same year. We’ve been members now for 10 years, and it’s a great part of our lives.” When asked about how the Pembroke Curling Centre has upheld the legacy of a club with such deep history Bill emphasized a message of community involvement and adaptability to the changing times. “This will be my fourth year as President, we’ve been able to do some pretty important outreach to the community. Not only to Pembroke but to the broader area. Part of the success of any organization is its ability to change with the times, as well as what’s happening externally and internally.” Going into more detail he spoke on the importance of the club’s sociability with the community. “There’s a big social part to curling. Keeping that social part of it has been an important component to our 150 years of success. You know, you’re competing out on the ice, and you come in and buy each other drinks. I think it’s really important for the community to have a well-rounded sports experience in the curling centre.”

As with most clubs in the Ottawa Valley and throughout Canada the Pembroke Curling Centre was not immune to the lasting impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic. “We ended up having to make a very tough decision in March of 2020 to close the club for the season. The following year we did not open at all.” Despite this, the combined effort put forth by the members of the Pembroke Curling Centre as well as the community ensured the club survived to see it’s 150th anniversary. “Everybody rallied around, made donations, and helped out with the fund drive so that we were able to make it through that year. Last year we had about 60% of our membership come back, and this year we’re almost at a 100% with lots of new faces.” Bill Cheliak spoke further on the importance of community during that hard time. “People in this community really kick in and help out, and that’s such an important part of our life, the social part of it. We have a great camaraderie, it’s awesome.”  

As the Pembroke Curling Centre approaches it’s 150th anniversary the celebration has already started for Bill and his team. “We’ve taken some liberty in the interpretation of the 150th. Officially it would be the celebration year of 22-23 but we needed some things to start. We actually started with a kickoff celebration at the end of March in 2022 and since then we’ve had a number of events.” From bocce ball tournaments to barbeques, the Pembroke Curling Centre has held a variety of celebratory events to honor the history of their club with another event planned for November 19th. “We’re gearing up for our celebration dinner. People from Curl Canada and Curl Ontario are coming to this to give an award to two of our members who have contributed to not just Pembroke but also curling in Ontario. We have a number of bonspiels coming up. In February we are hosting the Ontario Winter Games for under 18. We also expect to finish off the year with a theater song celebration looking at the evolution of curling in the Ottawa Valley. It’s like a year long party.”

From the towns that were settled hundreds of years ago, to the trees that have stood for thousands more, and the Ottawa River that has been here longer than both. The Ottawa Valley is a small part of Canada, but it is rich with history. Here in Pembroke, Ontario the beautiful murals that decorate parts of the town tell the story of a place that has stood for many years. Likewise, it is home to many sports organizations that shoulder legacies that go back decades and have vast bodies of history that extend outside the borders of our own country. Curling as a sport has been a firm part of Canada’s history and that of the Ottawa Valley. With a strong emphasis on community, President Bill Cheliak and his team have ensured the survival of one of the oldest clubs in not just Ontario, but in all of Canada.


  • Mike
    October 27, 2022 at 7:39 pm

    Great Article!

Add a comment